Supreme Court of Canada refuses leave to appeal of dry cleaner liable for $1.8 million clean-up

The Supreme Court of Canada recently dismissed a Leave to Appeal from an Ottawa dry cleaner that had been held liable for $1.8 million in clean-up costs from spills of dry cleaning chemicals that occurred approximately 45 years ago.

In most legal cases, a party who wishes to appeal the decision of a lower court must obtain permission, or leave to appeal, from the higher Court.  Generally, the losing party in a lawsuit may appeal their case to a higher court. If the higher court denies the leave to appeal, the decision of the lower court stands. If the court grants the appellant leave to appeal, the appeal process continues.

In June of 2018, the Ontario Court of Appeal released a decision dealing with the case Huang v. Fraser Hillary’s Limited. The owner of contaminated property, Mr. Huang, had sued the owner of a dry cleaner business who contaminated Mr. Huang’s property, Fraser Hillary’s Limited (FHL). Mr. Huang owns two commercial properties in Ottawa that are directly south of FHL’s property.

FHL, 1235 Bank St., Ottawa (Photo Credit: Google Maps)

From 1960 onwards, FHL operated a dry cleaning business. Mr. Hillary, the president and sole director of FHL. Spills of dry cleaning solvents containing tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE) were known to have occurred between 1960 and 1974 at FHL’s dry cleaning operation. Up to the mid‑70s, the adverse effects of dry cleaning chemicals were generally unknown or not clearly understoodty. In 1974, FHL bought new equipment and used new practices that eliminated the potential for subsequent spills.

In 2002, Mr. Huang discovered TCE at his properties after a an environmental site assessment. He subsequently sued FHL and Mr. Hillary for the cost of the environmental investigations and the clean-up of his property.

In 2017, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice awarded more than $1.8 million in damages to Mr. Haung to clean up his properties and reimburse him for the monies he paid for the environmental investigations conducted on his property. A summary of the 2017 decision can be found here.

After failing in his appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal, Mr. Hillary applied for leave to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). On April 11th, the SCC announced it will not hear an appeal. The top court does not issue reasons for denying leave to appeal.

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